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Lebanon

Hizballah Is On The Ropes

By Steve Schippert | August 1, 2006

Amid the relentless images of the dead extracted from a building in Qana, amid the fiery anger those images generated – from Lebanon to Europe and from Egypt to Indonesia - and amid deafening global cries for an immediate ceasefire, a curiously contradictory picture is emerging from the battlefields of Hizballistan: Hizballah is on the ropes, running short of resources and desperate for a ceasefire for its very survival.

While the world has held itself aghast at ‘Israeli aggression,’ Israel has been relentless in pursuit of what has been described as the fiercest Arab fighting force in the region. Undeterred by global outcry as over two thousand rockets and missiles have rained down upon Israeli cities with relatively little note, Israel has made good on their Prime Minister’s declaration of “Enough.”

Israel is providing a lesson on fighting the war on terror.

The mighty Hizballah, rightfully feared as the most lethally armed terrorist organization on the planet, is now on the ropes. Only their lifeline from Syria sustains them in the midst of devastating strikes from the Israeli Air Force. From the hundreds of rocket launchers in southern Lebanon to weapons depots and infrastructure all the way up the Bekaa Valley in Baalbek, Hizballah’s operational headquarters city, the IAF has exacted a heavy toll from Hizballah since the attack in Israel in which Hizballah terrorists killed eight IDF soldiers and abducted the two surviving.

In fact, in a radio interview with John Batchelor, retired Air Force General Tom McInerney detailed a debriefing with a senior IDF official in which he detailed that Israel believes their airstrikes have eliminated 70% of the long-range Iranian ZelZal missile systems in Hizballah hands. McInerney noted that over 1000 Hizballah infrastructure targets have been struck by Israeli air power up and down the Bekaa Valley (once called the most heavily defended air corridor on the planet) and throughout Southern Lebanon, including weapons storage facilities, command and control centers, vehicle repair facilities and 18 Hizballah financial centers which serve in the place of banks.

While sustaining these enormous losses, Hizballah is having difficulty re-supplying across the Syrian border. Convoys from Syria are struck by F-16's and drones once they are within Lebanese borders, often with the massive secondary explosions that indicate arms shipments. The Israelis believe that Bashar Assad is "directly involved" in the attempts to smuggle rockets, other arms and ammunition to Hizballah, and the release of the results of ‘defense establishment’ intelligence is Israel’s way of sending a message to the Syrian president.

In what is likely to be perceived as a potential escalation, Bashar Assad told the Syrian Army to raise its readiness and they have reportedly been sent from their barracks and posts to the field. But this is very unlikely any Syrian attempt to re-enter Lebanon to come to the aid of Hizballah, as the IDF can dispatch of the Syrian military forces with far greater ease than they can Hizballah. Syria wants nothing of Israel’s IDF/IAF war machine. That’s what Hizballah is for.

As Assad senses Israel’s growing frustration over the doomed yet constant shipments of arms into Hizballah, the move is most likely to get them spread out in a reflexive and defensive maneuver. To leave them in their barracks is to create a ‘target rich environment’ under each roof should Israel decide to send a less subtle message to Assad.

Sure, Assad may have sounded tough when he said, "The barbaric war of annihilation the Israeli aggression is waging on our people in Lebanon and Palestine is increasing in ferocity," but that’s what dictators and state sponsors of terrorism are supposed to say. What likely was in his mind as his message was typed for distribution was far more fearful than fearsome. As they are for Iran, Hizballah is Syria’s front-line Special Forces. Behind them, it gets mighty thin mighty fast.

Curiously, Israel also said that, according to their intelligence, Hizballah is not allowed to fire Iranian missiles without Iranian permission and that few have been fired. The most notable was the C-802 Silkworms that put an Israeli frigate out of commission and sunk an Egyptian transport ship. But, after the Hizballah-manned Lebanese Army ground radars were eliminated in short order, the C-802’s have been dormant.

Israel’s intelligence lets out what it wants to let out (fact or fiction) for specific design. So what is the design here? It’s simple. Israel is intent on putting it’s boot squarely on Hizballah’s throat, once and for all, and allowing both Iran and Syria to stay clear.

Hizballah is Iran’s ground force against Israel. Iran has no other offensive capabilities in the Levant aside from missiles launched from their own borders that will likely get shot out of the air. After Hizballah, they’re out of options at the moment. Israel knows this and is giving Iran a face-saving way to quietly back out. After all, Iran never ‘gave permission’ for Hizballah to fire their weapons. Israel is saying, “Take your 60 recently sent jihadists back and go home.” If Iran ignores this, there really is little they can do in any event, as the logistical conduit utilized from Syria is increasingly being collapsed under the weight of Israeli air power.

But Hizballah is also Syria's principle ground force against Israel. Syria's shallow army is the one force aside from Hizballah that can muster a fight within the battlespace. It would be a short fight at that. But in any event, for Syria, Israel hands a different message without a face-saving option. By declaring the Assad is 'directly invovled,' Israel is warning him, '“We know what you’re doing and we hold you personally responsible.”

Israel does not need to roll tanks on Damascus or even drop a few 2000-pounders on military installations. They simply need to convey that it’s just as easy to bank east from Baalbek as it is to bank west. Leave the option to Assad. He likes his palaces. He’ll make the right self-preserving choice.

And with that, the supply lines are cut off, leaving Hizballah alone with their pride and their banter, backing northward in a battered creep up the Bekaa Valley. It is an unpleasant feeling when your eyes are feeding your brain the images of where you’ve been rather than where you’re going…especially in a fight.

So, while the Iranians, the Syrians, the Lebanese, Hizballah and seemingly the entire world demands a ceasefire, Israel knows that a ceasefire is nothing more than a quiet pause for re-arming Hizballah. They’ll have none of it.

Israel’s inner security cabinet just authorized the ‘widening of the ground offensive.’ Take that in context with the above messages to all parties involved. While the IDF may not roll Merkavas all the way up to Baalbek, the Hizballah that emerges from a fight they could not finish will be denied southern Lebanese territory and a shell of its former self, requiring years - and much treasure - to reconsitute.

“Enough.”

Assad loves his palaces and Iran is trapped on the wrong side of the Persian Gulf.

The clock ticks for Hizballah.

Reference

Listed below are links that reference Hizballah Is On The Ropes:

» The end in sight? from American Geek
Steve Shippert, over at ThreatsWatch has an op-ed up wherein he predicts the imminent demise of Hizbollah. Here's how he begins: Amid the relentless images of the dead extracted from a building in Qana, amid the fiery anger those images... [Read More]

19 Comments

Very encouraging article, Steve. The general yada-yada of Antique media seems to be that Israel is stumped by the "ferocity" of Hezbollah and their well trained fighters. But when one decipher's some of these reports it's easy to see that Israel is honest about its losses while Hezbollah doesn't admit to any - except the women and children. I like your analysis for pointing out that "supply" and "re-supply" are extremely important. I have to assume that Israel is targeting supply lines heavily. At least I hope so.

Not so fast Mr. Shippert....

On Wednesday the UN Security Council will vote to approve a resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter that will mandate a cease-fire and the establishment and deployment of a multinational force to Lebanon. The tasks of the proposed force will be to man a buffer zone in southern Lebanon; enable the deployment of the Lebanese army along the border with Israel; and control Lebanon's international border with Syria.

The purpose of the force is to prevent Hizballah from attacking Israel and to cut it off from its logistical base in Syria while barring Israel from continuing the fight.

THERE ARE several basic problems with this approach. First, Chapter VII resolutions are the only UN resolutions that enable the Security Council to use force and other coercive tools against UN member states. Any state breaching them is considered an international lawbreaker.

Israel's enemies have for decades sought to have Israel come under the authority of Chapter VII resolutions, but the US has blocked all such attempts, understanding that they are aimed at denying Israel the right to defend itself.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her colleagues claim that the proposed multinational force would protect Israel. Yet it is already clear that this will not be the case. As things now stand, the proposed force will be led by France. Indonesia and Turkey have reportedly offered to participate. With France leading the international community in condemning Israel for defending itself; with some 40 percent of Indonesians telling pollsters that they wish to participate in jihad; and with Turkey led by an Islamist government, can anyone believe that this force will neutralize Hizballah? None of these countries even accept that Hizballah is a terrorist organization.

Good point, Blackspeare.

However, possession is nine-tenths of the law. France will actually have to move in a proficient and efficient military manner in order to get there before Israel's hammer comes down. Neither of these traits are thought of when contemplating French defense maneuvers. (/semi-sarcasm)

That said, the significance of UN troops in mass (vice UNIFIL) is duly noted for the reasons you state.

It is the principle reason why Hizballah will live to see another day, with considerable time spent licking its significant wounds.

And thus, Hizballah will once again at a later time be deployed in action as Iran's front line foreign legion.

But for now, in this battlespace, the clock is ticking and the fist is coming. (Note the air assault forces in Baalbek after this writing.) Israel will beat the UN to the bell.

Quite a different perspective than the "Israel is bogged down" one that much of the media is giving right now.

I hope you are correct.

That's a lot of information you gleaned from, in a fact-finding capacity, three cites. Any other sources you can document?

I do believe that Israel is doing better than the MSM suggests or cheers for. I have not seen any discussions on the capability of Iranian forces. Does anyone have thoughts on whether Israel can defeat them if it came to a direct confrontation with conventional weapons?

I would give the French military forces more credit - remember they have a long and continuous history of military intervention in Africa, and so they aren't that out of practice. They have a long historical relationship with Lebanon and I believe they genuinely want to get rid of Hizballah. But vis-a-vis Israel, France's stance is framed by the "Eurabia Syndrome" and the weak link in the chain is the political will to do what is necessary (i.e. Chirac is in charge).

The danger is that if it doesn't work, then Hizballah will have protection then because Israel is not going to want to end up killing French soldiers. Hopefully they can get their work done quickly now.

I believe that Steve is correct in his assessment of the timing of a French led "intervention". Unless, of course, the United States provides logistic/transportation support the French simply cannot move a meaningful force in a timely fashion. Hopefully, we will not help the effort; and hopefully the Israelis will insist on a robust force in place before they quit the field. However, I am afraid that we will cooperate with the effort.

Along those lines I am confused by the seeming disparity in the statements of Secretary Rice and the President. It seems lately that they are not always on the same page. I hope that she is simply mouthing platitudes, while the President is speaking reality.

Mr. Tucker,

Steve may want to give a more detailed response on the Iran weapons issue - he follows it more closely than I - but I can tell you that Iran has upgraded its conventional forces significantly over the past five years with the oil boom. But the upgrades have still largely been with Russian military technology, so while they are ahead of other Middle East states that haven't got U.S. tech, they are still clearly behind Israel in that regard.

A broader geopolitical point: I wouldn't worry about or expect a direct confrontation with Iran right now. This flare up likely happened because Iran needed a diversion from the UN sanctions track which is running parallel to this, and because they also wanted to put pressure on the U.S. in Iraq. It may be that this was primarily Hizballah's idea to get their captured members back, but Tehran would have to have approved. It think the former theory more likely. In any case, it doesn't make sense from Tehran's point of view to escalate this until they have gone nuclear. And so I don't think that will happen now.

A very cogent analysis compared to the histrionics in the NYT.

Buckblog, I'm not sure Iranian conventional forces really matter; I doubt Iran will be granted military access across Turkey or Iraq to even reach the Syrian border, let alone Lebanon.

They certainly lack the airlift capacity to effect an air bridge-head into Damascus. Especially in the face of a hostile IAF.

On Iranian forces:

Whatever upgrade the Iranian forces have made or not made, none of them include major airlift or amphibious capabilities.

Hizballah are their forces in-theater.

Long story short, Iran is simply stuck on the wrong side of the Persian Gulf and their 'Foreign Legion' is simply getting whacked far harder than most perceive.

Ask yourself -- with the Syrian congo-line nearly neutralized by Israeli air power -- once Hizballah's stock of rockets is expended, then what?

Tick, tock.

As to the French, it depends. I don't think there's many people with more scorn for the French military than me, but the FFL is very tough, and if they end up being engaged on the ground with Hezbollah, it'll be decidedly bloody.

Depends on what the command structure and brief is, I think.

I, personally, would like to see a Ceasefire -- at a time and under circumstances of Israel's choosing.

The French may be tough troops but so are the US Marines and they both have the weakness of being bound by the laws of war, whereas Hezbollah violates those laws as a matter of routine. Send in French troops and they will be bombed by Hezbollah, who will then blame Israeli air strikes for it and world opinion will, as usual, be against Israel.

It has been proven time and again that "peacekeepers" are worse than useless when there is no peace to keep. Only if both sides want peace or are at least willing to tolerate the other side's existence, are peacekeepers at all effective. International troops sent into southern Lebanon after an Israeli ceasefire will be targets, shields and propaganda tools for Hezbollah.

I am struck by how Israel is apparently willing to fight this war...to win. Thank you for an intelligent and discerning piece.

Truman established the boundaries of the Cold War. For the next two generations, proxy wars were possible, but direct confrontation of the principal protagonists were not.

Nor were the use of WMDs on either side allowed. Fighting and competition was always with one hand tied behind each protagonist's back.

The world successfully avoided the Armageddon of Nuclear War, and as always happens, one of the protagonists collapsed internally.

It is imperative that Bush and Israel establish similar ground rules in this extended contest. No Proxy State can be allowed to not suffer the consequences of conducting or allowing its proxy sub state group to wage war. This is particularly important regarding Nukes.

If Iran hands HezbAllah a nuke and they use it, to destroy Tel Aviv or New York City, the primary principle to be taught is that Iran can't skate on the punishment.

The Syrian regime is very exposed, it must pay and pay heavily after HezbAllah is driven to ground. Whether this is a ground invasion or an Israeli Air Power destruction of the guns and armaments that hold the Baathist Alewite minority regime in power is immaterial.

I think this might be a masterful example of salami slicing or waging war in stages, facing and defeating separate armies one at a time. "Stonewall" Jackson did this masterfully in the early 1860s.

The Assad regime must be the second example after Saddam Hussein, that Proxy War is not CHEAP nor SAFE to undertake. Moumar Ghaddafi learned, he and his fellows need a re-enforcing lesson.

I'd be surprised if the Israelis would accept the French.

While they were great friends of Israel at one time, that's no longer the case.

Any French force involved in "peace keeping" would likely tilt toward the Arabs, if for no other reason than because doing otherwise would risk trouble back home amongst France's increasing Muslim immigrant population.

Huge difference between US Marines and FFL troops: the former aren't easily expendable; the latter are.

Any serious military force put in is going to find itself engaged with Hezbollah. While the "Arab street" will rant and rave and caper and gibber -- that's what it's there for -- it doesn't much matter if, say, a car bomb takes out a FFL company. As a practical matter, the FFL is NOT bound by the laws of war.

As I said, it really depends on the nature of the force sent in, and what its command structure and orders are. The French know this, which is why they're dithering, hoping that the US and Israel will go wobbly and accept UNFIL II: Hezbollah Boogaloo.

Proper analysis of any situation can only be done with an absence of emotional involvement